Workout Tips

Cluster Set Training for Strength and Size

Use this proven, big-weight method to max out your total poundages on your very next session, no matter your goal.


Man Seated With Heavy Dumbbells

Whether you are a bodybuilder getting ready for the stage, an athlete looking to increase force production, or a bouncer at the local “kick and stab” looking to get that edge you need to protect the door; break out the stopwatch and give cluster sets a try.

Cluster sets are sets with built-in, intraset rest periods allowing for more weight, reps, and total tonnage lifted. For example, instead of doing 4 sets of 6 repetitions, you would perform 4 sets of 2+2+2 repetitions with 30 second intraset rest. This would be written as:

4 x (2+2+2) 30 sec. intraset

Simply put, it allows you to lift more weight for more reps, which leads to more potential muscle growth and strength gains. This is, after all, the reason that we sweat and toil and bleed day after day in the gym.

One of the beauties of using cluster set training is that it creates an almost infinite number of variations you can use to achieve your specific training goals. You can manipulate sets, reps, intraset rest, and inter-set rest depending on your desired outcome.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “this sounds a lot like rest-pause training,” and it is similar; but there are some differences. Both methods take advantage of your body’s explosive energy stores and their ability to replenish quickly but in the rest-pause method of training you have a set load and that load (or more precisely, the fatigue it induces) dictates the volume. In cluster set training you have a set volume and load that are pre-determined. Also, while in rest-pause training fatigue is a big goal, during cluster sets this is not the focus.

Cluster set training presents a technique to decrease some of the metabolic fatigue that is formed during the use of traditional, “no rest” sets.

According to Dr. Greg Haff, a leading sports scientist, “The introduction of a short rest interval between individual or a series of repetitions appears to result in a partial replenishment of PCr (phosphocreatine) during the intraset rest interval which is reflected in a performance enhancement.”

Cluster sets should be used for your core lifts for the day. For example, on upper body day, use cluster sets for the bench press, incline bench and military press. But once you get to your auxiliary work (i.e. tricep extensions, front raises, side raises, etc.), go back to using normal sets and reps.

Cluster set training can benefit bodybuilders, strength athletes, Olympic lifters, or anybody looking to solidify their position atop the gym food chain.